INCEPTION in the AIC

“No idea is simple if you need to plant it in somebody else’s mind.”

 Yes, I am referring to the Christopher Nolan movie.

Inception believed to be an impossible task, implanting another person’s idea into a target’s subconscious with hopes of it taking root there and germinating, or being accepted by the target as the product of its own mind.

A dream within a dream within a dream

While working at the AIC, we are often faced with inspiring enthusiasm, facilitating study, and encouraging creative thought. So- like the crew of Inception- we plant ideas and watch their progress.

The Quest Tour

The Challenge: Initially our group of 8th graders for our tour arrived tired and hungry, muttering “why are we here?”

The Goal: Drew, Hannah, and I were all of the same mind thinking, “We are going to make them enjoy themselves.”

The Strategy: Set up as a quest to kill the mythical Hydra, they collected “weapons,” “longevity,” and “combat skills.” At each object, they engaged in closer and closer looking.  They learned to cue into artist’s visual cues, construct a narrative, and link the object’s aesthetic qualities to its function or purpose. At each object, a student was given the next gallery number with a picture of the object. Working with a student that had a visitor map, they led us through the museum to the next stop. Throughout the tour they became more and more excited.  

Guardian Figure look-alike!

The Result: My two presentations included a Guardian Figure from 15th century Indonesia and  a Nasca Container Depicting Rulers, Warriors, and Winged Beings with Trophy Heads. The students studied the guardian figure’s facial features, stance, and weapon. They then teased out how its appearance was related to its function as a protector of sacred religious spaces. (One kid told me it was his favorite object and that he’d want a guardian figure to keep people out of his room.) With the Nasca container, the students noticed the distinctions between the anthropomorphic figures, the enemy peoples, and the warriors wearing masks. They then constructed the battle narrative. By then end, they demonstrated a clear understanding of “quest” when they constructed their own in a studio activity.

Nasca Container

The Conservation Tour

The Challenge:  We don’t usually create specialized tours (particularly those based on conservation science), however I was really excited about the challenge. Ever since taking conservation classes at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum, I’ve thought about how important it is to incorporate conservation into museum education. The more the public knows the better.

The Goal: We wanted to give students an introduction to museum conservation as a field and to have them think critically about what it takes to preserve works of art.

The Multi-Layered Strategy: We studied gallery spaces in the museum before proceeding to looking closely at specific works. We had a run through of the construction of the Modern Wing (it’s green properties and how it is conducive to the preservation of the museum’s artworks). We also walked through the Alsdorf Galleries and discussed its transformation from previously housing Arms & Armor. We also looked at the appropriate use of filtered natural light in a gallery housing mainly stone-works, microclimates in display cases, and the use of hygrothermographs to monitor relative humidity. They compared the Alsdorf Gallery with that of the Prints & Drawings Gallery (where there is only very low artificial lighting to prevent further damage, fading, and discoloration to the works on paper).

The Results: In Drew’s presentation on El Greco’s Assumption of the Virgin, the increasingly energized students noticed the need to preserve vibrant colors. They even spotted a triangular repair near the center of the composition. Hannah’s presentation on Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge revealed that if you look closely you can see where the canvas was cropped and then later reattached through conservation methods. When it came to Picasso’s Old Guitarist, students noticed similar breaks in the composition (only this time it was not due to cropping- it was the painting’s oil on panel format). After close looking they saw the faint impression of a woman’s face by the guitar player’s shoulder. (There are two hidden compositions underneath this particular work and their study by Bonnie Rimeris fascinating.) Overall, the students discovered and compared the differences in the presentation and organization of works. They investigated the conservation and preservation of the works themselves. Most importantly- they got really excited about the wealth of information that can be found through close study of the works! One even asked Drew specifically what he would need to do to become a conservator!

At “The Old Guitarist” – after a student noticed the broken and distorted figure we tried to mimic the body positions.

layered x-ray composite image showing a painting of a woman underneath the guitarist

The Problem with Inception in Daily Life: Every day on my way to work I have to ask myself, “IS THIS A DREAM OR REALITY?”

Evidence seems to suggest that it is too good to be true:

LOOK! I’m standing on a famous Carl Andre sculpture titled “Steel-Aluminum Plain.”

I get to make art with kids at the Millennium Park Family Fun Tent.

I get to hang out with the best Museum Education interns of all time.

So, is this internship a dream or is it reality? To keep the real and unreal clear in my mind, I use a totem like the Inception crew. A totem is a personalized small object whose behavior is only predictable to its owner and is used to identify dream-state or reality-state.

My totem is my ID badge.

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